Staying power: 30 years in construction recruitment
Sarah Harvey, Director of Harvey Lawrence, has just celebrated her 30th anniversary in construction recruitment. Here she reflects on her time in the industry! When I took my first construction recruitment job in 1989, I would never have imagined I would still be in the industry 30 years later. Thriving for three decades in this role is rare, as it’s such a tough, competitive environment to work in. My time in construction recruitment has given me a unique insight on the industry as a whole, and I wanted to discuss the evolution I’ve seen and the changes I still want to see. As we approach the end of an uncertain year, we’re hoping 2020 will be reinvigorated through political clarity. For construction talent, be it permanent or temporary staff, if you do a good job and add value, you win through. Construction An Improved Landscape The industry has undergone a major image transformation over the last 30 years and has emerged as more professional and respectable. The industry we know today is process-led, policy-driven and digitalised. The culture of the late 1980s has been largely overhauled, and as a result, we all work in a more positive sector. Whilst policy is a must in order to mitigate risk, there is a feeling that policy can be more of a tick-box exercise with the clear exception of health and safety. We have seen a complete behavioural overhaul of health and safety, and rightly so. The standards have skyrocketed, meaning workers are happier, more productive and significantly safer in their roles. Equally, 30 years ago, there was no such thing as having records and plans stored digitally. Advancements in technology have enabled plans to be viewed in 3D, making it more efficient to plan and develop construction projects. The concept of construction management software has also revolutionised the industry. It allows different parties to collaborate on projects with more ease, which means they can make necessary changes much faster. We also talk about equality, diversity and inclusion, and wanting to attract more women into construction. Fortunately, how the industry treats its stakeholders is worlds apart from where we were in the late 80s. Industry leaders who are stuck in their old ways still exist, but thankfully, they are now few and far between. They need to be as they actively deter females from the industry and cause good staff members to look for better prospects elsewhere. Where We Need to Build a Better Industry Culturally, the industry has improved, but there are issues that still need to be resolved. I think the way parties interact with each other has remained largely unchanged with confrontation still rife. Because of this, the industry loses talent that doesn’t cope well in harsh cultures. Being overly tough just isn’t the right approach for today’s talent. The industry has been very slow to adjust here, despite claiming otherwise. Staff retention hasn’t improved massively over the years, but if we adapted the same zero tolerance approach to poor management as we do to health and safety, workers will be more inclined to stay in their roles. People often tell us they feel like they’re in a straight-jacket, unable to offer ideas or honest feedback for fear of it putting a black mark against their name. Similarly, there are widespread comments that people feel like their appraisals are rushed and merely part of box-ticking process. Whilst policy is key to compliance and risk mitigation, there needs to be a greater level of sincerity around policies. We have to take them more seriously instead of using them to simply satisfy legislative criteria. I can still remember how fondly professionals spoke about their careers in the late 80s and 90s. Despite how far the construction industry has advanced, it doesn’t feel like workers these days have the same sense of team spirit and respect for each other. There seems to be a worrying sense of disillusionment with how they’re treated, with company politics and what many consider to be overkill on process. Talented professionals feel stifled and that their roles are now less skilled with the growth of automation processes. I knew many site engineers, site managers, quantity surveyors and the like who are now senior industry leaders. It seems the generation of yesteryear had a real appetite to progress, but these workers are now within a few years of retirement. As a general observation, I think those who have come through the industry in the last ten to fifteen years don’t have the same desires. This is concerning as it poses a potential problem for sourcing future leaders and begs the question as to why people don’t want these roles. It’s highly unlikely they don’t want an increase in salary, bonuses and kudos. It’s more than likely they don’t want to deal with the complicated processes, backstage politics and blame culture that many perceive comes with career progression. Towards the end of the 80s, late payment was rife. We still hear about poor payment issues today, which is leading to the same business failures we saw three decades ago. Payment has improved on the whole, but I feel it may have regressed in 2019. We talk about fair treatment and timely payment, but there are still behaviours that fly in the face of these principles. Recruitment: The Success and Failures of the Industry The recruitment industry has also evolved a great deal during my three decades in the business. When I first started out, recruitment was completely paper-based, and sales offices were smoke-filled dens of relentless, high-pressure sales activity. The role was purely phone–based and job boards were unheard of. The way in which jobseekers look for new roles now has certainly changed. Over the last few years, I have witnessed the rise of job boards, applicant tracking systems, portals and social media — LinkedIn in particular. Previously, advertising was mostly confined to industry magazines, and anyone looking for a different job would need to look at adverts while on their tea-break. In this digital age, I feel as though the sector has lost its perspective of what it means to be good at recruitment. I was taught recruitment from first principles, which means building up a profile of a person’s experience and aspirations through detailed face-to-face discussions. We built trust with clients this way, as they knew we were doing our due diligence rather than just lifting profiles from social media or job boards. Today, this latter approach has sadly become all too common, and I feel it has created an inherent distrust of clients towards agencies. There is no denying that technology is very much part of modern recruitment. I talk to many clients who are frustrated that they haven’t filled their roles when all they’ve done is placed an advert online. You don’t achieve the right results working like that, which is why we need more credible, connected recruiters who understand the industry and the people they are looking to find roles for. Relationships are still key; they always have been and always will be. However, the skill of being able to make good judgement decisions based on knowledge and due diligence has been hugely diminished. Technology should improve efficiency and enhance recruitment outcomes, but I think, unlike in construction, it has had an adverse effect, leading to a poorer service in general. 30 Years On — Achievements and Lessons I’m proud to have survived 30 years in construction recruitment, and that I have stuck it out through three recessions. I’m also proud to have led two start-up recruitment businesses, one for a major player and one being my own, which has been a success for the last 18 years and counting. I have retained many of my clients throughout my working life, and Harvey Lawrence’s repeat business levels with clients is currently running at 83%. You can only achieve results like that through hard work and adapting to an evolving industry. Honesty has set my business apart, which goes a long way in explaining how we have formed so many lasting relationships with clients. In 18 years, we have only had one legal dispute, and we believe that our transparency is the reason why our clients put their trust in us. Experience has taught me to keep my feet on the ground as I have seen first-hand how quickly things can change. This is partly why we are totally self-funded with a strong credit rating. My industry longevity has taught me to be prudent and cautious. I underestimated how difficult managing a business could be at times. I didn’t factor in economic or legislative changes well enough, but I managed to get my head around the learning curve, which has led to my company thriving. Both the construction and recruitment industries have seen positive changes over the 30 years, and I’m sure it will continue to improve. It will be interesting to see how culture and collaboration between parties will make strides towards ending conflict in the workplace. It seems that the industry still has some work to do in creating a more conciliatory culture, one which is motivational for staff and the supply chain. However, the future looks bright, and as long as the industry is willing to adapt, we should achieve better results for all stakeholders involved. Join in the conversation with Harvey Lawrence over on our social channels! Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or contact us now to discuss your recruitment needs.
Blue Monday Motivation
Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, is infamous for being the most depressing day of the year. But just because this day has been dubbed the most miserable, should we dwell on what is depressing us en masse… or rather, do something positive to kick those negative associations far over the horizon? Why so blue? The thinking behind Blue Monday is logical when you look at the facts, few people can honestly say they love Mondays, January is a long month, typically wintery and grey, with a longer than usual wait for pay day, the bright an twinkly hullabaloo of Christmas seems like a distant memory yet we’re all still paying off the credit cards bills as a result, and we’re all expected to just slot back into the usual work regime as normal, getting up in the dark and arriving home in the dark – meaning many people fall into a downward spiral by sheer dint of the fact that a perfect storm for feeling blue has well and truly landed! To top it off this year, we are all a bit overwhelmed with the many issues surrounding Brexit and are probably fed up of hearing about it all if we’re honest, and that’s before we have even considered where we are with our list of New Year’s Resolutions… feeling blue yet? If you are, don’t panic, you’re clearly not alone! It is true, January can be a challenging month as we get back into the day-to-day ‘swing’ and plan for the seemingly long year ahead. For the construction industry, many projects have reached completion and there is often the interim period of waiting for new projects to begin. If you’re feeling the lull this Blue Monday, we’ve got a few things up our sleeve to lift you up… A fresh start Assess your career – our day job is what consumes most hours in our day so it’s vital that you’re in your happy place when you go there. Pick up the phone or message us on social and book yourself in for a free career consultation with Harvey Lawrence, our skilled team of construction recruitment specialists are on-hand to ensure you never feel blue on a Monday ever again! If you’re feeling the pinch after Christmas, maybe you could be earning more, ask us how your salary benchmarks against others in your profession. Fancy a fresh challenge, seizing a new opportunity? If you’ve been in your current role for a little while and don’t feel like you’re making headway, get in touch. If you’ve spoken to us in the past and now have a few more years under your belt, we could have just the role for you… Brighten someone’s day Give Blue Monday a poke in the eye by doing something lovely for a colleague, friend, stranger (think Random Acts of Kindness). You’ll be surprised how even something as simple as grabbing an extra coffee from the machine for your work mate and seeing the smile on their face can cheer you up too. It’s all about the goals Set yourself some personal goals (goals are more serious and focussed than resolutions). Whether it’s getting back to the gym, improving your distances, or better utilising your time – make it specific and write it down, today! Four times a week in the gym, a half marathon in under 2 hours, 4 hours a week working for a local charity – make it count and make a commitment to something other than work. If you are an employer – don’t let your teams succumb to Blue Monday misery, instead schedule personal reviews to set objectives, personal targets and aspirations for the year ahead. Lift staff out of any malaise by helping them to visualise their goals and rewards. Revisit promotion goals and remind your team you’re right there to help them achieve. Plan some you-time We guarantee that this Blue Monday buster will have you feeling brighter in an instant! Schedule your annual holidays; choose a new destination you haven’t been to previously, and space them out so you have things to look forward to throughout the year. This way, the year will be punctuated with good things to look forward to and the time in between will seem to go faster. If you are an employer, encourage staff to plan their holidays for the year so that they don’t get overworked, jaded and demoralised. This also serves to assist with planning staff resources and will result in better individual output. Win-win! Be more social, really When was the last time you did something as a family or as a work group? Ensure you don’t feel isolated by bringing lots of people together for a group event or a get-together. Real life social events have the power to uplift mood rather than spending lots of time on social media which has been proven to cause the opposite. At work, if you’re the boss, organise group away-days which is a great opportunity to review business strategy or maybe organise a group teambuilding day. Build in half business and half fun to the agenda (and pick an inspiring venue or location too). CSR (corporate social responsibility) Most organisations are involved in some form of charitable activity. If your workplace isn’t, talk to your employer about getting something set up whereby you can be allowed a set amount of time off per month to do something good for a good cause. In the construction industry, this may be helping a local school learn the benefits of a career in the industry, donating surplus building supplies or time to fix run down areas etc. Flexible working In 2017, Construction News reported that over a period of 5 years in the construction industry, more than 1,400 people had taken their own lives, more than in any other profession. Unnerving statistics and something that both colleagues and employers are encouraged to look out for in the workplace (learn more at MHFA England). Blue Monday may seem like a trivial phenomenon when faced with stats like this, but it should serve as a reminder that we can all feel demoralised and downtrodden by the ‘treadmill’ of work. If flexible working is an option, then this is something to be considered in order to ease the pressure, increase motivation and add some variety to our work life balance. Keeping an open door and an open mind to people who may be suffering is the first step to getting people back on track. Join in the conversation with Harvey Lawrence over on our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or contact us to speak confidentially about your next career move.
SHOW ME THE MONEY … OR IS THERE MORE TO IT?
Every New Year we see a surge in people coming back after the festive period looking for new jobs. Is it that they are looking for more money or is it that they don’t like something else about their current job? In our experience as long- standing construction recruiters, we believe that the “something else” is the real reason and that money is rarely the major driver. More money is normally an easier reason given at resignation stage when you are sat in front of your boss and you just prefer not to give the real reason. It makes the resignation meeting, probably not a relished meeting, much easier and hassle free for the employee. Similarly, in a market where employers are all competing for the same skills sets and staff, one of the quickest and easiest levers to persuade someone to join is to offer more money but this in itself needs to be examined closely. When we do see a move motivated purely by money, it is often a short term move because there are other factors that haven’t been closely considered about the move. Here we share some useful insights based on our experience including the reasoning and pitfalls of money-motivated moves to both employees and employers – It is rare that a salary increase makes a definable difference to lifestyle once appropriate deductions have been made. In order to make such a difference to lifestyle, we feel it would need to be an absolute minimum of 10 percent increase of gross salary. So, our advice is to crunch the numbers and not be blinded by the figure on the contract and make your decision based on the reality and not perception. It is worth considering if an employer is making an exceptional offer, perhaps an increase of 15 percent of gross per annum salary or above, why they are doing this. There could be a number of reasons where they have to make exceptional offers to attract people such as a declining business, a poor track record in attracting and retaining staff, long hours or working away from home, an unattractive benefits package in terms of car policy, pension, healthcare and bonus to name a few. There will almost always be a reason why employers pay well over the odds to attract people. Our advice is to do your research as more money is clearly an attractive proposition but quickly loses its appeal against adverse circumstances. There are quick checks you can do including a credit check, speaking to clients, subcontractors and former and current employees of the business. Make sure feedback is current and well- informed. Remember you spend a lot of time at work and other factors need to stack to make the job an enjoyable one. Money aside, what do we feel are the real reasons that people move. Most people know these but to name the key ones – don’t get on with the boss, don’t like the company culture, company restructuring and management change, lack of work, travel and feeling overlooked for promotion. So, let’s look at them and what can be done to avoid some of the issues relating to them: DON’T GET ON WITH THE BOSS - We think this is right at the top of the list. There is no doubt that If you don’t get on with the boss or feel you don’t get on, that this is quick route to failure. Most people walk away from this situation rather than try and resolve it and that is often on both sides. However, it could well be avoided as not getting on is normally based on poor communication, not addressing issues and letting things fester. Amongst the stress of deadlines, actually sitting down and discussing things calmly gets neglected. It’s a shame this doesn’t happen more as it could offer massive improvement for staff retention. Also, within site teams it is probably not easy for someone to have an independent person to speak to. Really this should be covered within the review process. How much preparation and time actually goes into the review process or is the review approached as a task that has to be completed. Such an approach is never going to have a successful outcome. Also, is there a mechanism for another level of management to be involved so that issues with an immediate line manager can be highlighted and dealt with. COMPANY CULTURE - We spend most of our lives at work so liking the business you work for is key and if you don’t like it , there is a real problem. Not many people like change but normally it is that the changes haven’t been communicated well and therefore the employee can often interpret them negatively. One of the main issues that people seem to have is they don’t like what they feel to be ever-increasing process and form filling. They perceive it as desensitising the job and taking the skill away. Most of us recognise the need for compliance and automation but it is clear that good people want to feel that they can make a valued personal contribution and showcase their own talent. When they feel they can’t do this, therein lies a danger of retaining good people. COMPANY RESTRUCTURING AND MANAGEMENT CHANGE - Generally this is kept quiet by senior management until the last moment by which time half the story is out and people have put their own spin on things, one that is not always positive. A communication issue then leads to a “buy in” issue. People can then place themselves on the job market because of what they think is happening as opposed to what is actually happening. Either way, more timely announcements could help staff retention. As an employee why not ask to speak to a senior manager to ask your own questions about the business and then make your own judgement before placing yourself on the job market. LACK OF WORK - This shouldn’t be the case in this market and if it is, there is clearly a problem. Lack of work and long-term visibility will undoubtedly unnerve people as they remember only too well what lack of works means. This is an extremely hard one to overcome and will always push people into making a job move. We are aware that many companies have internal updates on work – winning but these should be regular and highly informative. People like security and also love the buzz of working for a successful business. TRAVEL/WORKING AWAY FROM HOME - Over the last decade it is clear that there has been a move towards working hard but not at the expense of work / life balance. Therefore, long commutes are definitely something that people look to avoid and this makes local work is very attractive. Commutes of an hour are generally still accepted as normal and anything over that may become an issue. However if they enjoy the business they work for, get on with the team and feel that there is long term work, this doesn’t tend to be a problem. It is perhaps only when the other factors are not acceptable that commuting, unless particularly gruelling, becomes an issue. Working away from home is a different issue and although working away is accepted within some sectors, within the wider industry there has been a definite reluctance of people to work away from home. In the current climate people don’t feel they need to. We often see people that have accepted a role for a project near home to find out that the next project means working away and consequently placing themselves back on the job market. We advise closer examination at interview stage of where the company works and has worked recently. Recruiting people that work more than an hour from the project or office or recruiting people that are not used to working away from home is not a good idea. In terms of working away from home, there probably needs to be attractive perks more than just reimbursement of hotel and travel expenses. We have seen in some instances subsistence allowances changed / reduced and therefore this makes working away an even less attractive proposition. OVERLOOKED FOR PROMOTION - Good people want recognition and will quickly become disillusioned if promises are broken. The appraisal process doesn’t always catch this as what might have been set as objectives for promotion might be undone or ignored, particularly if there is a management change and no “follow through” or a change of opinion/ direction. This is dangerous as one disillusioned employee can lead to several disillusioned employees and before you know it, you can have an exodus of staff. If things don’t happen against agreed objectives and timespans it can become a matter of principle and therefore difficult to correct. We suggest that before taking a stand and placing yourself on the job market, sit down and have a meeting and refresh on objectives set and ask for an explanation why a promotion hasn’t been forthcoming. If at this stage you are not happy with the answers, then perhaps look at your options. It is also just part of business that companies can tend to concentrate on problems first which can often mean good people get overlooked, ironically by virtue of their own ability. This in itself is dangerous and doesn’t promote a culture of keeping your best staff. Our overall message is that job moves are normally based on factors other than money. We feel that money is the excuse given or the symptom but not the cause. Things could be helped enormously by more regular communication. Be wary of joining a business just for money or recruiting an employee that is just interested in a salary increase as in our experience it doesn’t generally bode well. Remember that there are many other important factors to consider, not only the whole benefits package which could make a difference to how a base line salary is viewed, but also the work and the culture of the business, success and ambitions.
Team K2 Paddle for Parkinson's
Matt, who has never been in a kayak before, has set himself a huge challenge to cross the English Channel in a 2-man kayak for Parkinson’s UK in order to raise funds for the charity. This will help with valuable research, development and ongoing support for sufferers, carers and to raise awareness of this disease. Matt will be crossing the world’s busiest shipping lane with Team K2 which will involve an 18-mile journey from Dungeness to Bolougne. Although Matt has never set foot in a kayak, we are reassured by the fact that he is a strong swimmer! Parkinson’s UK is a charity that Harvey Lawrence has supported in recent years and we will be donating again to this valuable cause and supporting Matt in his brave endeavour. Matt has embarked on his training program and we will be keeping you updated in the forthcoming weeks. Every hour, 2 people in the UK are told they have Parkinson's. They estimate the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2018 in the UK was around 145,000. If you would like to support Matt on his epic journey you can donate at www.justgiving.com and search channelkayakchallenge.